Friday, October 30, 2009

The Internet and the Future of Learning

The last post dealt with the online resource There are other sites which feature manuscripts online and huge resources of ancient Seforim. Even the behemoth Google has a vast array of online books.

What I’d like to discuss here is the future of learning. As we enter the digital age, I foresee a time when the computer will be a familiar sight in the Beis Medrash. In the not so distant future, I picture a wide screen atop each Shtender with digital or PDF versions of all Seforim ever printed.

Imagine you are learning Chulin. You would choose from Tzuras Hadaf or digital versions, whatever suits you best. If you mouse-over any given word, you will be able to link to the Rishonim, Acharonim, Rambam, Shulchan Aruch etc. You will be learning Tosfos, and you won’t need to get out of your seat to find the Gemara quoted, a simple click will bring up the relevant text. You will be able to access medical tomes and encyclopedias to better understand the intricacies of Eilu Treifos.

If you don’t understand something, you will send an instant message to your Chaver across the room. You might even IM your Rebbe, if protocol allows.

If a pandemic hits, you might sit at home and access the Shiur live online, or download it to view at your convenience. You will be able to review the Shiur as long as it takes to understand it. No Rebbe will need to say over a Shiur 400 times.

Talmidim who are proficient will type their notes as the Rebbe speaks. Others will use dictation software if their typing skill are lacking. Jewish themed Youtubes will abound with Shiurim from all the great Roshei Yeshiva. Kinaas Sofrim will ensure that the quality of these lectures be superb.

Anyone with worthwhile Chiddushim will publish their writings on peer reviewed blogs. Anti-plagiarism software will ensure that each thought is unique.

Please add your ideas of the futuristic Bais Mesrash in the comments.


  1. This seems likely, but given the conservative nature of the Beis Midrash, when you say "future" you must mean 150 years, not 10 or 20. If you think about it, the Bar Ilan database has been available for decades. Many yeshivos have it, and make it accessible to the bochurim. But not in the Beis Midrash. Many other helpful aids have long existed, but are frowned upon beshitta, and have yet to make their way (lawfully) into the Beis Midrash proper.

  2. Thanks for coming by Fred. What took you so long? I mean 10 or 20.

    Reminds me of the Priest who told his congreation:

    I don't think I'll live to see the day when priests can marry - but I'm sure my children will.

  3. The reason why I don't think it will be that soon is because young people don't set policy for what goes in a Beis Midrash. In addition, there is an alternative information explosion which has already made inroads in the Beis Midrash, namely the publishing explosion. In this sense one can imagine that some already feel that they've made compromises with modernity in the service of talmud Torah. Don't forget about the exceedingly negative view of computers and the internet; it's hard to see how in as soon as 10 or 20 years they will commonly be a part of the Beis Midrash. And this isn't the place to talk about it, but there are many seforim among the 40,000 at Hebrewbooks that not only aren't welcome in the Beis Midrash, but many would rather no one even knew they exist.

    For what it's worth, someone once told me that RIETS Ra"m Rabbi Jeremy Wieder does keep his laptop in the Beis Midrash, and he uses it.

  4. Okay, maybe not 10-20, but certainly not 150. Look how fast the cell phone caught on, look how fast the laptop became a staple in universities.

    I recall how just a few short years ago a RAM in an unnamed yeshiva was unnerved how people were talking on cell phones in the street. He was talking about females, saying males would never do that. Well it wasn't that long ago that I saw him on his cell in the GAAS.

  5. The problem is that you're projecting from universities onto the Beis Midrash, and from divrei chullin to onto talmud Torah in the BM. I don't see how in only 10 years the deep rooted objections will be steamrolled over. Maybe in 10 or 20 years most rabbeim wand roshei yeshiva will be available to their talmidim via email. That I'd buy. But your scenario, it seems to me, is more than a century away (assuming that the internet, e-books, etc. continue to develop along those lines -- obviously if in 100 years it will all be available in a chip in the brain or another futuristic thing then the way we're envisioning it now will not be what penetrates the conservative institution of the Beis Midrasah).

    With reference to R Wieder, I guess the truth is that in less traditional, yet Orthodox, batei midrash laptops and the like probably will become common, if they aren't already, and that will make a roshem.

  6. We'll have to wait for a Shlishi or time to be Machria


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